Keeping a Hedgehog as a Pet
The hedgehog is a small mammal covered in spines that lives in Europe, Asia and Africa. There are 16 different species but the most common kept in captivity is the long eared hedgehog or the African pygmy hedgehog. They are nocturnal animals and feed mainly on insects. They are not difficult to maintain and care for but we must be informed on how to do this as they do require some special care due to the physical characteristics that this animal presents.
It is not an animal we find in normal pet shops, it is considered an exotic animal though in recent times there are more people who decide on keeping a hedgehog as a pet.
The free hedgehog
Hedgehogs stand out for their spines, hollow hairs that are filled with keratin. These are not poisonous or sharp (though they still cause pain) and can be lost in youth or at times of stress. If threatened they are able to roll up into themselves to create a ball of spines, their survival depends on this mechanism.
They are 10 to 15 cm (0.3 to 0.5 feet) long and can weigh a maximum of 400g (0.88 pounds). For most of the day they sleep among the grass or in their burrows, where they are protected. During certain periods they suffer lethargy, depending on the climate and resources available in their area, they can hibernate and then become active in the summer. They have five fingers with sharp claws that allow them to dig to get food in the earth, they mainly eat insects. They constantly sniff.
They communicate with a wide range of sounds, from grunts to screams. They are sensitive to sudden movements and sounds, this destabilizes them, and resort to protecting themselves with their spines and rapid 'breathing' until the animal feels that the danger has passed.
Often they perform a ritual or a practice known as anointment. When they perceive a new smell, they approach to nibble and sniff, they then smear saliva on the object with the tongue, the reason for this behavior is unclear.
Basic hedgehog care
To know the sex of a hedgehog we can observe the underbelly where we will find two small testicles if it is a male or nothing if it is a female. It is not advisable for health reasons for a hedgehog to breed at home.
The hedgehog can live well with other pets such as dogs and cats, although it is a solitary animal. Yes, it needs room to move as it will struggle to adapt to enclosed places. It is therefore important that your pet is socialized as a baby. Despite being a shy animal it has a good nature.
They require a temperature of between 25ºC and 27ºC (77ºF and 80ºF), so in winter it is essential to have some independent heating for your pet, otherwise it could start hibernating which is totally inadvisable. They prefer dark areas.
Your hedgehog will need a cage of at least 1.5 meters where it can hide and for it to contain some material to absorb its waste (for better hygiene). We will supply it with a den of at least 14 x 26 cm (5.5 x 10.2 in) . It is advisable that is has no fabrics as it may easily get tangled with the threads. Instead we can use kitchen paper that the animal will break and use correctly. We will also provide some soil so it can dig as it would in nature.
During the night we will let it run around the house or a room in a supervised manner and we will also supply it with a large wheel (at least 30 cm/11.8 in in diameter) like that used by hamsters so it can exercise as needed.
They do not need to be bathed unless very dirty, but it is important to disinfect their environment to prevent disease.
Regarding food, it is preferable to feed it in the afternoon. We can provide it with food for insectivorous mammals (low-fat) or a specific feed for hedgehogs (we can find it in some pet stores). We must control the doses as they have tendency to gain weight. It is very important to offer insects, fruits and vegetables.
To pick it up we will use oven gloves and let it sniff us so it can gradually recognize us. They can live up to 8 years.
Most common hedgehog diseases
Among the most common diseases affecting hedgehogs we find:
- Dry Skin: They may even lose spines, we will hydrate them with liquid petroleum jelly.
- Mites, ticks and fleas: Sprinkle their back with insecticide, where it can not lick itself. In addition you must sanitize its living area.
- Fungi: The vet carries out a scraping and advises an appropriate treatment.
- Chapped ears: This stems from a problem with mites or fungi, once the main problem is solved we can hydrate them with cocoa butter.
- Diarrhea: Usually a greenish color. It may be the result from a new diet. We must give it water to avoid dehydration. If the problem persists we must go to the vet.
- Vomiting: This is not common, it may suffer this when being transferred by car. We must give it water to avoid dehydration. If the problem persists, you should go to the vet because it could be a gastrointestinal problem.
- Obesity: This is a serious problem, it needs good prevention with a balanced and adequate diet. Consult your veterinarian.
- Cold: It is a common problem, we must raise the temperature of the heating by a couple of degrees, in extreme cases go to the vet.
All these problems should be solved by a veterinarian because it is an exotic and very sensitive animal. In addition to the diseases we have discussed they can suffer from other ones, in generally we are referring to rare or very uncommon problems such as hedgehog conjunctivitis or even cancer.
Where I can adopt a hedgehog
- Private sellers: We do not recommend in the slightest that you purchase a hedgehog privately. You can not know the treatment that the animal has received from its previous owner, if it has been treated inappropriately you may find yourself with a scared or aggressive hedgehog. There will be no health guarantees that confirm that the animal is healthy and in perfect condition and it can also suffer a lot of stress if it is an adult. This can lead to the most common diseases.
- Pet Shops: The vast majority of pet stores are not used to these animals and do not always have the suitable skills to offer them. For this reason you can not always be sure to adopt a healthy specimen that is well cared for. You will also be encouraging animal trafficking.
- Professional hedgehog breeders: They are the specialists and on the whole they will know the animal best as they are specialized in their breeding and care. It is the best place to get advice about its care and you will also have the advantage that you can choose the one you like best according to color, age or even behavior. However, we will be encouraging animal breeding which often has a sad ending.
- Animal shelters: This is the best option of all. Many people adopt hedgehogs without knowing about their behavior and then abandon them. Shelters for exotic animals are definitely the best place to adopt a hedgehog and take care of it better than its previous owner.
As explained above, the hedgehog is solitary and nocturnal. You should not expect it to chase you around the house like a dog or seek affection constantly like a rodent would, it is a hedgehog.
You must play and interact with it in the evening and early morning, when it is more active. You can try to gain its trust by offering small worms (which it loves) or small pieces of fruit. The first few weeks, even months, you will have to manipulate your hedgehog with gloves because their spines are quite painful and they often turn themselves into balls when feeling mistrust of a situation.
It is normal that it moves with some agitation, does small sneezes and moves its nose without stopping, however you must always make sure that the temperature is suitable.
Not all hedgehogs will be be sociable pets, there will be some that will always be afraid of the humans with which they live. This point must be very clear before adopting one. Animal abandonment is usually de to not heeding this point.
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